Julia Spigai

Ketchikan High School junior Julia Spigai has been accepted into two prestigious summer programs that focus on preparing students for applying to college.

Spigai was accepted into the Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America program — as the second Kayhi student in two years to participate as a LEDA scholar, following class of 2021 graduate Evelyn Nutt — and the Questbridge program, as a college prep scholar.

Spigai spoke with the Daily News recently about the lengthy application process for each program, and what she’s looking forward to as the courses start up.

The LEDA program is a seven-week long course that is traditionally hosted at Princeton University, “and you’re talking with staff members of Princeton as well as the admissions officers from all around the country,” Spigai explained. “But due to COVID, it's going to be held virtually.”

The LEDA application process is intensive, and she first learned of the opportunity through Kayhi’s junior/senior counselor, Robert McClory.

McClory informed her about the program in November, and applications were due in December.

“Each application is very long, so you need a lot of time to just write your essays and gather all your materials,” Spigai noted.

“There are three parts to the application,” she said. “The first part is pretty generic. They just ask for a few essays about yourself, where you grew up, are you a citizen, and it’s more of like, ‘OK, is this student qualified?'”

Applicants must have a grade point average of at least 3.6 to advance through the process.

“If you advance to the semifinalist position, then the second part of the application is more about transcripts and test scores, whether or not you are commendable as an applicant, academically,” according to Spigai. “And, also, they look at your extracurricular achievements and what makes you really stand out.”

Spigai said she believes that her extensive music experience, including spots on the All Northwest Honor band and several state honor bands, bolstered her application.

Aside from the written application, Spigai also went through interviews with counselors from the LEDA organization.

“It was mostly just about a connection,” she explained. “This LEDA program is more about family and just having a safe place to come to in this crazy world, especially with COVID. It’s like a second home; you can go to your laptop and just talk to them about your experiences, but also they want to train you in applying to certain colleges. So the interview was not very stressful.  It was more of just being yourself and explaining your home life.”

Spigai had to wait until March to learn that she was accepted as a LEDA scholar. She said that she tried not to think too much about her odds of being accepted.

“I was just taking it one step at a time,” she explained. “I try to do that with everything I do. I try to just take it one step at a time, never thinking too far ahead because when you do that, you get stressed out, and if you don’t get to that final stage, then you’re just wallowing in your own sadness for weeks.”

Spigai also was encouraged by knowing that other Kayhi students had gone through the same process.

“I didn’t want to think ahead and one thing that always kept in the back of my mind was Evelyn (Nutt, former LEDA scholar) got into this program, and Evelyn is one of the smartest, most dedicated people that I know of, and, just knowing that she got into this program, I’m thinking that every time I (am) accepted into the next stage, I consider that a huge accomplishment.”

And when she finally received notice of her acceptance into the program, “it was all worth it in the end,” Spigai said.

Now, she’s looking forward to seven weeks of LEDA classes focusing on preparing her for college admissions. The classes include SAT prep courses, writing classes, meetings with fellow participants and college admissions counseling.

It’s the counseling opportunities that Spigai is most anticipating. During those sessions, admissions officers from universities including Duke, Stanford, Dartmouth and Princeton will coach the high school juniors on their admissions.

“They will come and give these LEDA scholars one-on-one personal attention and information about the college admissions process (and) what college admissions look for in an applicant.”

She added, “as a future college applicant, it’s always nice to have insider information.”

Spigai also was accepted into the Questbridge program as a college prep scholar. She was selected from a pool of 3,908 applicants — all high school juniors — from around the country.

Students who are chosen for the Questbridge program are automatically entered into the National Match Program in their senior year of high school.

“And this National Match Program is paired with 65 collegiate universities such as Duke, Wesleyan, Oberlin, these really great schools,” Spigai said. “And the schools that are paired with this Questbridge program look through your application and they see that you are exactly what that school needs.”

But because Spigai was accepted as a LEDA scholar, she can’t be entered into the National Match Program. She said that the Questbridge program considers LEDA scholars to have an unfair advantage over other college prep scholars.

Even so, Spigai is set to take part in meetings throughout the summer and her senior year.

“It’s a few meetings throughout the summer, usually (a) whole day excursion, and it’s not a weeks-intensive program like LEDA is,” she explained.

“When you’re a college prep scholar, it really is preparing you for being in this national match program and being matched to your dream school,” she said.